How to Write a Eulogy

Tracy Crisp, Funeral Celebrant

You really want to write the eulogy. You’ve finally sat down to write it but now you don’t know where to start. How do you sum up a lifetime in just a few minutes?  There are thousands of tips and tricks on how to write a eulogy, but I think there is one simple question which will help you find your focus.

One powerful question

When I meet with a family I do have a list of questions I ask to get us started. Where were they born, what were their hobbies, that kind of thing. But one of the most powerful questions I’ve learned to ask is, ‘Where do you think they were happiest?’

Strangely enough, I only thought to ask this question in an interview about someone whose life was a simple, but fulfilling one. The family had been using words like ‘content’ and ‘didn’t want much.’ I think at the time I asked the question as a way of helping me to see this person more clearly. Asking, ‘Where were they happiest?’ helps me to get a picture of the person ‘in action.’ What things made them content? Sitting out in their garden, fishing on their boat, at a BBQ  surrounded by family and friends?

What it gave me–as an unintended consequence–was an opportunity to paint a word picture leading into the committal. It helped to create a reminder of times that would bring comfort at this difficult time of the service. 

“Asking, ‘Where were they happiest?’ helps me to get a picture of the person in action.”

Since then, I have found it to be a valuable question in all sorts of situations. Some people have complex and difficult lives, and don’t have much happiness. So asking this question can help a family to find the moments of softness in an otherwise hard life. It’s also a much more specific question than, ‘What were they like?’ but still helps out to move beyond the chronology of events and straight into their character and spirit.

I also sometimes offer it as a suggestion when someone doesn’t know where to start with the eulogy. Describing the person in a place or time they were happy can be a great place to start. It gets straight to the heart of the story. 

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